UNITED NATIONS — The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously approved its toughest sanctions yet against North Korea Monday, just over a week after that country launched its most sophisticated and powerful nuclear test ever.
“Today, we are saying the world will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN. “And today, the Security Council is saying that if the North Korean regime does not halt its nuclear program, we will act to stop it ourselves.”
It comes in response to North Korea’s Sept. 2 underground nuclear test of a hydrogen bomb, its sixth nuclear test since 2006. The latest test, which experts said was more than five times as powerful as the bomb the United States detonated over Hiroshima in 1945. It followed several ballistic missile launches in the past few months, despite another round of sanctions imposed in August.
The U.S.-drafted measure imposes severe restrictions that could economically damage North Korea’s nuclear effort by reducing the export of oil into the country by 30 percent, blocking its textiles industry – a source of $800 million in revenue – curbing access to natural gas and subjecting the country’s ships and cargo to closer inspection.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement early Monday saying it was watching the United States’ moves closely and warned that it was “ready and willing” to respond with measures of its own. It said the U.S. would pay a heavy price if the sanctions proposed by Washington are adopted.
The document approved Monday, called Resolution 2375, will limit exports of refined petroleum products to 500,000 barrels as soon as October, rising to some two million barrels each year starting in January.
It also bans UN member states from issuing work authorizations of North Koreans overseas, a source of $500 million in tax revenue. That provision is aimed at eliminating the flow of funds that could be used to finance North Korea’s nuclear ambitions to the detriment of its people, who experts say endure food shortages and lack basic necessities as their leaders pursue the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.
“Through this vote we have made clear that we will not stand idly by in the face of such aggression,” said Mathew Rycroft, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the UN. “That we will not be intimidated or cowed. That we will match North Korean provocations with clear, targeted consequences.”
The new sanctions, though, are not as forceful as early drafts, which would have included a full oil embargo and freezing assets of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The weaker provisions written into the draft represent a compromise to bring on board China and Russia, who both expressed skepticism at the U.S. zeal to punish North Korea last week.
Russian ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia reiterated a joint Russia-Chinese proposal for the United States and South Korea to suspend military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting all nuclear and ballistic missile testing.
China and Russia had called for a resolution focused on a political solution to the escalating crisis over North Koreas nuclear program. They have proposed a freeze-for-freeze that would halt North Korean nuclear and missile tests in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea stopping their joint military exercises — but the Trump administration has rejected that.
China’s U.N. ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said Beijing has been making “unremitting efforts” to denuclearize and maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Liu again urged the council to adopt the freeze-for-freeze proposal and said talks with North Korea are needed “sooner rather than later.” He expressed hope that the United States will pledge not to seek regime change or North Korea’s collapse.
Nebenzia went further, making clear that while Russia supported the resolution, it wasn’t entirely satisfied with the council’s approach.
He said the “unwillingness” of the U.S. to reaffirm pledges not to seek regime change or war in North Korea or to include the idea of having U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres use his good offices to try to resolve the dispute “gives rise to very serious questions in our minds.”
“We’re convinced that diverting the gathering menace from the Korean Peninsula could be done not through further and further sanctions, but by political means,” he said.
The U.S. Mission to the UN released a fact sheet saying the new resolution, combined with previous ones, effectively bans over 90% of North Korea’s publicly reported 2016 exports of $2.7 billion, in the form of coal, textiles, iron and seafood.
“Today, we are standing united once again by taking action in order to protect our collective security and to ensure that the North Korean regime’s threats do not go unanswered,” said Italy’s ambassador to the UN, Sebastiano Cardi. “The resolution adopted today provides for a strong, comprehensive package of restrictive measures. They are a reflection of the gravity of the current situation, and they constitute a proportional and appropriate response.”
— With The Associated Press